Primary Psychiatry. 2008;15(10):24
To the Editor:
We read with interest the article describing horticultural therapy by Fried and Wichrowski.1 Although they and others2 describe the therapeutic benefits of gardening activities with children, we have been conducting a “gardening group” each summer for the past several years at a state-operated psychiatric facility for adults. The garden itself is located in the fenced-in courtyards adjacent to the day rooms of a specialized clinical research unit jointly operated by Rockland Psychiatric Center and the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in Orangeburg, New York.3 Patients under the guidance of clinical and research staff participate in the selection of which vegetables and flowers to grow, preparing the earth, planting, irrigation, weeding, and harvesting. The edible plants get eaten (waiting until they are ripe and ready for a salad is encouraged but not always successful), and the flowers get sold in the autumn to facility staff. Over time, the gardening group has become one of the most popular voluntary groups on the research unit.
We have observed multiple benefits the gardening group provides to our patients. First and foremost, the garden increases patients’ understanding and appreciation of the natural world. Many of our patients were raised in New York City and have never had the opportunity to see their food grow or work in a garden before. Ideas that the rest of us may take for granted, such as the fact that tomatoes ripen from green to orange to red, can really engage the interest of someone who has never seen this before. The relaxed structure of the group also allows patients with an interest or desire to be more involved to take on leadership roles. For each of the past three summers one or two patients have self-selected into the role of “master gardener,” taking responsibility to watch over the garden on a daily basis and to water and weed on the weekends when the usual staff is unavailable. Harvesting the garden is not only enjoyable and tasty; it also allows staff the opportunity to teach the patients some basic cooking skills. We hope that by having the patients prepare salads, cook vegetables such as green beans and eggplant, and even bake zucchini bread, some will be able to remember and use these lessons in the future.
We highly recommend such “gardening groups” for other intermediate and long-term psychiatric units.
Rachel T. Ziwich, BS, Charlene Olang, Henry Epstein, LCSW, and Leslie Citrome, MD, MPH
Ms. Ziwich is a research coordinator at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in Orangeburg, New York. Ms. Olang is a rehabilitation assistant and Mr. Epstein is a unit chief at the Rockland Psychiatric Center in Orangeburg, New York. Dr. Citrome is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine in New York City and the director of the Clinical Research and Evaluation Facility at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research.
Disclosure: The authors report no affiliation with or financial interest in any organization that may pose a conflict of interest.
1. Fried GG, Wichrowski MJ. Horticultural therapy: a psychosocial treatment option at the Stephen D. Hassenfeld Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. Primary Psychiatry. 2008;15(7):73-77.
2. Levin A. Members in the news: psychiatrists sow seeds of good mental health. Psychiatr News. 2007;42(16):14.
3. Citrome L, Epstein H, Nolan KA, Tremeau F, Elin C, Roy B, Levine J. Integrating state psychiatric hospital treatment and clinical research. Psychiatr Serv. 2008;59(9):958-960.
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